A warp-faced cotton and silk fabric from Gujarat and Kutch, mashru means “lawful” or “permitted” in Arabic. The fabric was initially made so that Muslim men could wear silk, something otherwise prohibited by the hadith (a segment of Islamic law).
Mashru cloth is made with a satin weave that places silk warp threads on the outer side of the fabric and the cotton weft on the inside, keeping the silk away from the skin when worn. A related fabric from Persia, susi, was described in the sixteenth-century text Ain-i-Akbari, which suggests that mashru too may have existed in India around the same time. While most scholars believe that mashru was a purely South Asian invention, others suggest that it may have originated in the tiraz factories of West Asia, well before the mention in the Ain-i-Akbari. Mashru gained popularity not only among the Muslim communities in India, but also in the medieval Islamic world across West Asia and North Africa.
After the cloth is woven, it is soaked in clear water and hammered with wooden implements to give the material its characteristic sheen. Traditionally, the cloth is striped or patterned using the bandhani and ikat techniques with natural dyes. Mashru is used as a base cloth for Rabari applique and embroidery and in kanjari work done by the Meghwal community in Rajasthan. While it is mainly stitched into garments for men and women — most commonly blouses and ghagras (skirts) — mashru is also used in furnishing and cloth bags. In South India, mashru was often used for making skirts and trousers.
Today, the only remaining centres for traditional mashru fabric are Mandvi in Kutch and Patan in Gujarat. Large-scale commercial manufacturers now use rayon instead of silk as an inexpensive and mass-produced alternative.
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